First, voting rights came under attack by the political powers that be in Texas. Now, another crucial element of our democracy – public education – has become a major target of Gov. Greg Abbott and the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.
Why? Because Abbott and his allies are more narrowly focused on their own political preservation than they are on the future of our state or the futures of Texas’ 5.4 million public school children. Instead of protecting and promoting democracy, they seek to tear it down.
The attack on public education began in earnest with the enactment of the so-called critical race theory law to whitewash the teaching of racism and discourage classroom discussions of other issues that make many conservative voters uncomfortable.
It is bad enough to interfere with teachers’ efforts to teach the whole truth about our history. But the law’s deliberate vagueness makes it even worse. Already, some parents and school officials have misinterpreted the law to absurd and hurtful extremes. In a handful of instances, well-regarded books by Black authors have been removed from school libraries and classrooms, and one school administrator even told teachers to have books in their classrooms offering “opposing” views of the Holocaust.
These misinterpretations, deliberate or not, will increase. In some districts, teachers work in fear that one of their lessons or classroom discussions could come under attack by a parent or would-be school board candidate, placing their careers in jeopardy.
Does Abbott care? No, not as long as the law wins him votes in next year’s Republican primary.
Republican Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth continued the attack on public education by threatening a witch hunt for several hundred listed books in school libraries and classrooms, mainly books dealing with race relations, diversity, LGBTQ issues and sexuality.
Not to be left behind, Abbott then took Krause’s threat to another extreme by writing to the Texas Association of School Boards to complain about alleged “pornography” in schools. He didn’t identify any specific books, because he was simply playing to parents who may misuse the term, “pornographic,” to refer to any book they don’t like. The governor’s letter was another attack on public education.
Local school districts already have procedures in place for investigating parental complaints about books or other instructional materials they find objectionable.
Krause, a largely unknown legislator, is trying to increase his name identification for a statewide race for attorney general. Abbott is competing with two right-wing extremist challengers to see who can make the most outrageous comments or take the most extreme positions before the March GOP primary, where extremism may go a long way toward determining the party’s nominees.
In the process, they are disrespecting educators, undermining public schools and shortchanging students. They are doing serious harm to the institution of public education, which is far more important to our state’s future than anyone’s political career. And it may take a long time to repair the damage.